'I Break Promises to God'

Also: A Wiccan confronts a Christian friend, and a Catholic wonders 'did I accidentally convert to Islam?'

Have a question for Paul Raushenbush, Beliefnet's advice columnist for teens? E-mail us.



Dear Pastor Paul,

I always make promises to God and then end up breaking them. I feel terrible after, but I don't know what I can do to have God forgive me. Do you have any suggestions?



Dear Friend,



In short, what you have to do for God to forgive you is to ask.



Breaking promises to God is a very human thing to do. We promise God that we will not be hateful, or selfish, or engage in unhealthy activities, and then we do and we feel awful - not only because we know the act is wrong, but because we broke our promise to our creator who loves us.

The key to changing this pattern is twofold. The first is to deeply understand the act of repentance. Repentance is not just throwing up our hands and saying I'm sorry. Repentance involves truly admitting and understanding the nature of our mistakes, seeing the root causes of our wrongful activities and the consequences they have on other people and the world. It also involves trying as best we can to mend the damage that has been done, and then asking for forgiveness from God and from the people we have hurt. Repentance is work.

The fact that we are sinful is not some kind of mean-spirited indictment; rather it is an admission of our fallibility. And because God knows we are sinful, God does forgive us. Psalm 130 reads: "If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered."

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The fact that God forgives us also means that we should forgive our friends, family and even our enemies who harm us! Don't forget the prayer that Jesus taught - "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us."

Dear Pastor Paul,

Once when reading a book about Islam I said the statement of faith out loud. I know that is how you convert and I said it contemplatively. I was and am a Catholic. I believe in Jesus and I am pretty sure I never meant to convert but I still wonder: am I still a Christian?

Dear Friend,

You are referring to the Shahada, the Islamic expression of faith. It reads: "There is no god but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God." Muslim leaders and scholars agree that that you must believe it completely in your heart in order for saying it out loud to make you a Muslim. Don't worry, if you still believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ you are still a Christian.

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